Cutrano killed in motorcycle crash; helped found veterans memorial wall
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org May 28, 2012 10:14PM
Anthony R. Cutrano helped found the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run, the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles and the Ryan Beaupre memorial in Kankakee County. | File photo
Updated: July 3, 2012 12:14PM
ERIENNA TOWNSHIP — A Palos Heights man, who helped found a veterans memorial wall and motorcycle run, was killed in a Memorial Day weekend motorcycle crash on Route 6 in Grundy County.
Anthony R. Cutrano, 52, helped attract thousands of participants each year to veterans memorial events during the last decade. He helped found the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run, the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, and the Ryan Beaupre memorial in Kankakee County.
Cutrano was killed in a crash around 3 p.m. Sunday in western Grundy County, the county coroner’s office said. Cutrano was on Route 6 north of Bluff Road, in an area known as Halterman Hill, the office said.
Cutrano was driving northeast, coming to an inclined curve, when his motorcycle came in contact with a guardrail on the east side of the roadway, according to preliminary investigation cited by the coroner’s office. The motorcycle traveled around 300 feet along the guardrail before Cutrano was ejected from the cycle, the statement said.
Cutrano was pronounced dead at the scene by Coroner John W. Callahan, the coroner’s office said.
“The motorcycle community lost a good man (Sunday),” said Ray Prokaski, president of the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run, on Monday evening.
Origin of efforts
Back in June 2003, Cutrano, a Navy veteran, met fellow biker Jerry Kuczera for pizza at the Third Down Bar & Grill in Chicago. They were there to talk sports, but they were horrified by the TV images of war protests in downtown Chicago.
“We were watching TV, and they were spitting on the American flag,” Kuczera said. “Tony was a veteran. I had a brother who was in Vietnam. I had seen how the soldiers had been shunned in Vietnam.”
“Tony was compassionate. He said, ‘This isn’t right.’ I said, ‘I’ve seen this with my brother. This can’t be a repeat,’ ” Kuczera said.
Cutrano and Kuczera decided to go downtown and protest against the protesters.
“We started making phone calls, and those phone calls that we made were the start of the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run,” Kuczera said. “It became a movement, which started a nonprofit organization.”
Cutrano and Kuczera’s group would go on to galvanize thousands of people for the cause of veterans.
Cutrano and Kuczera built a single monument in St. Anne, Ill., for a hometown hero, U.S. Marine Capt. Ryan Beaupre, one of the first Illinois casualties of the war in Iraq.
Afterward, they wanted to do more, to find a way to honor all of the fallen troops from the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.
“We knew from the beginning that the Vietnam soldiers had a wall, and pretty soon these kids are going to need a wall, too,” Kuczera said Monday.
So, with help from public officials and other citizens in Marseilles, the bikers set out to build a granite wall along the banks of the Illinois River, Kuczera said.
Tradesmen and businessmen from the Marseilles area pitched in to make the memorial a reality. Other union members volunteering on the project came from Operating Engineers 150, Carpenters 195, Ironworkers 386, Cement Masons 11, Electricians 176 and Plumbers 422. Material donations came from businesses in Joliet and Chicago.
They dedicated the monument — the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial — on June 19, 2004.
Although the wall is designated for those killed in Middle East conflicts, it also includes some names of troops killed in locations such as Panama and the Balkans during the past three decades.
The group adds names each year from the U.S. Department of Defense website.
And regarding the motorcycle run, Sun-Times Media stories tell the tale through the years: 7,000 participants in 2003, in the inaugural run from Chicago Heights to St. Anne; 12,000 bikes in 2004; and 8,000 bikes in 2009.
This year, the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run will be June 16, and is expected to attract 10,000 to 20,000 people.
Voice for veterans
Through the years, Kuczera and Cutrano worked to update the memorial wall.
“This is the first time in the history of the United States that a monument has been erected honoring our fallen servicemen and women by name while the conflict is ongoing,” Cutrano said in 2008.
“These children are sacrificing their lives for our freedom,” he said in 2004.
In December 2008, Cutrano participated in a wreath ceremony at the memorial wall. Cutrano said the wreaths “are a remembrance of the fallen and their families who will be missing a loved one over the holidays.
Cutrano said the ceremony “gives us an opportunity to teach our children that freedom has never been free.”
“He was very passionate for all the military, the young men and women who have suffered casualties and losses and are home now, as well as his passion for the families,” Kuczera said of Cutrano.
“We worked together very strongly. The compassion in his heart was as high as a mountain,” he said.
In 2008, Kuczera and Cutrano stepped down from the board of the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run, but remained active co-founders.
Kuczera said his love goes out to the surviving family, Linda Cutrano and the couple’s son Chance.
In 2010, Sun-Times Media quoted Chance on his parents: “My father was deployed during the end of Desert Storm. He taught me to love my country, love my freedoms and support the troops because that’s why I am here. My father is a big mentor of mine. He has helped me grow to reach the goals that I’ve been trying to reach, and he pushes me harder and harder to go further and further. He is there with me the entire time, helping me. The same is true of my mother. She is always there to talk to and be there for my growth and help inspire me.”
Sun-Times Media contributed to this story.